K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • Teaching contemporary Europe: We know how to teach Europe’s past, but what about the present? This article offers strategies and resources for teaching today’s Europe, using online resources from the Center for European Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • Teaching the European Union: This article presents the European Union — often seen as an "extra" in instruction — as an integral part of the government, economy, history, and culture of Europe. It offers background on the EU, and ideas for deepening understanding of the EU every time you teach Europe.
  • Teaching world cultures: According to the new Professional Teaching Standards, every North Carolina teacher must promote global awareness in classroom instruction. This article presents some general guidelines and specific strategies for global teaching.

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Teaching the European Union is an exciting but sometimes overwhelming challenge. Because the EU is a relatively new part of European life, resources for teaching are scarce and may be difficult to find. Few social studies textbooks give much room to the history of European cooperation after World War II, the steps that resulted in the formation of the EU as it exists now. And to make matters more frustrating, because the EU is quickly evolving with new members and initiatives nearly every year, available textbooks are frequently out of date.

Fortunately, EUROPA, the official portal site of the EU provides background and up-to-date information about the EU online. The site offers information about the history, structure, and function of the EU especially (but not exclusively) for citizens of EU countries.

EUROPA is a rich source of information, data, maps, and audiovisual resources on the European Union and its history. How can teachers and students use its resources for exploring the formation, structure, and goals of the EU? Here are some ideas and strategies for including EUROPA in your teaching.

A resource to supplement textbooks

In most textbooks on Europe, the unit covering the post-war era is devoted almost exclusively to the rebuilding of the region’s infrastructure through the support of the Marshall Plan, followed by the history of the Cold War. Very little attention is given to the steady growth of European cooperation, which is essential for understanding today’s Europe.

EUROPA’s online resources can fill the gap left by textbooks. For students just beginning to learn about the EU, EUROPA offers About the EU, an introductory presentation on the history and structure of the EU that offers far more information than would be possible in a traditional textbook. Here students can explore the EU through textual explanations, maps, images, or a decade by decade historical view that includes videos from European life at each stage of the EU’s formation.

For more advanced students wanting to dig deeper into EU issues, the site offers official documents, discussions of EU policies, and EU news. Here students can actively research the function of particular EU branches of government, contemporary issues, and data on the EU as a whole or on particular countries. The information on population, economics, and legislation is updated regularly.

Classroom suggestion: Challenge students to create a new “chapter” for their textbook using EUROPA resources to present the historical background and present-day function of the EU. The EU chapter, or unit, could be created as a traditional text, a wiki, or an online text with links. EUROPA also offers informational slides for us in PowerPoint presentations.

Flexibility for differentiated instruction

Finding students the right learning materials suited to their reading and language skills is a continuing (and growing) challenge for teachers. Because EUROPA is designed for use by Europeans of all ages and from all EU countries, the site offers its information for many levels of learning and in a wide range of languages.

EUROPA materials come in many forms, each suited for particular ages and interests. EU history, for instance, is available as text, a timeline, and a series of videos. Information on EU environmental initiatives ranges from picture books (”Let me tell you a secret about the environment,” available in English, French, German, and Spanish) to full analysis of legislation and policy. Teachers can support students in exploring and researching EU themes at the level most suitable for their learning.

From the home page onwards, EUROPA offers a choice of twenty-three European languages (including Spanish, French, and German, of course) for its text. All EU information is available in every language spoken in the EU. And at any point, from any page, a reader can switch to another language.

This format allows students to challenge their emerging second language skills, with support only a click away. For example, an English language learner might begin to research EU history in English, and, when necessary, click to read the same text in Spanish, to confirm understanding. Students in French, Spanish, and German classes might begin in their language of instruction, clicking to English as a way of keeping on track and building confidence.

Classroom suggestion: For research projects, support students with varying language proficiencies by showing them how they can research in the language of their choice, while checking their comprehension in their first language. Guide students to resources suited to their reading proficiency.

Different media for different learning styles

It’s a rare resource that offers teachers essential material for learning in a variety of media suited for different learning styles. EUROPA provides basic information about the EU in not only in text, but in slides, charts, audio, video, and interactive maps.

Students who show a preference for visual learning can choose between text-intensive or image-driven resources for exploring the EU. Strong, advanced readers have the option to dig into the actual treaties that led to the creation of the EU, while those readers needing some support can access the summaries. Timelines and photos provide visual variety, and can be copied for reports. And because symbols have played such an important role in forging an EU identity — the design of the euro is just one example — the images of the EU featured and analyzed prominently also offer a subject for research and presentation.

Aural learners can access audio-visual links (including EU on YouTube) to deepen learning. The history links include contemporary video clips and audio tapes of European leaders at crucial points in the move towards European cooperation. Language students can hear speeches of the founders of European cooperation in the original French and German. EU-produced videos on issues such as energy conservation can enliven student research and presentations.

Kinesthetic learners can strengthen their understanding of EU countries and the history of expansion by working with interactive maps. Some maps are “zoomable,” so that a click on a country yields a closer view of political and physical detail. In other maps a click opens a separate window with quick facts about a nation and its admission to the EU.

EUROPA also offers games and quizzes on the geography, history, and culture of EU countries. Most online challenges (Europa Kids Corner for instance) include a short but information-packed introduction to an EU topic. Students can save and restart their games, and compete against themselves or others, enjoying a fun review of social studies learning.

Classroom suggestion: Challenge students to create a presentation on an EU topic (the environment, for example), including resources suited to different learning styles. Your students can share the presentation with a younger class, or a class just beginning to study the EU.

A different perspective

Perhaps the most important advantage of EUROPA for North Carolina students is the opportunity to learn about the EU from a European point of view. Because the site is designed primarily for EU citizens to find information and services, students have the opportunity to overhear, so to speak, how the organization defines itself with its own members, within its own boundaries. It also lets students see how the EU is involved in the world, through trade, international policy, and foreign aid. With this in mind, students can read and listen actively, noting the implicit assumptions and the view of the world reflected on the site.

A function of the EU that may be of particular interest to high school students is the Erasmus Programme, which makes it possible for students to study abroad in another EU country from three months to a year. The procedure is much simpler than study abroad for U.S. students (no passports or visas are required, for example), and students may receive funding from the EU for travel and living costs.

EUROPA offers many links to information supporting young people looking for opportunities and work throughout the EU. Whether students’ plans after graduation include college or work, they can explore what their European counterparts might be doing to prepare for beginning adult life. CTE teachers might join with your students in comparing and contrasting how young people in the EU and the U.S. build a solid foundation for their future.

Classroom suggestion: Divide the class into groups and have each choose an EU country. Have each group create a fictional European student who is planning for college and work. Students can use the resources on EUROPA to choose a university, plan a semester or year abroad, and research post-graduate work possibilities in another EU country.