Political Discussions In The Classroom


With students nationwide already back in school for the 2022-2023 year and midterm elections around the corner, political discussions are sure to come up in classrooms. Dr. Suzanne Barchers, Education Advisor/Vice President of Curriculum at Lingokids, says there are ways to approach sensitive subjects without upsetting the applecart, but there are rules to follow. In this Q&A, Dr. Barchers offers some sage advice for teachers.

1.  Is there a line to discussing political issues?

Before embarking on any discussion of politics, determine what your district’s policy is. Keep good records of your discussions if you do undertake a discussion of politics.

One good strategy is to build a foundation based on our country’s historical and political underpinnings. When I was homeschooling my granddaughter in grade five (during Covid), I planned our fall curriculum to include history lessons about the electoral college and how this process works. We studied the platforms of the two major parties: Republicans and Democrats. Then we discussed which tenets she identified with—mostly. Not surprisingly, she agreed with some positions from each party.

As her teacher, and in my previous role as a teacher, I emphasized how important it is to determine which issues are important to you and which candidates support those issues…irrespective of party affiliation. For example, she is very focused on environmental issues and cleaning up the ocean. My concerns are for better education and women’s rights. We explored candidates—parties aside—that aligned with our issues. From there, we discussed how difficult it is to decide on a candidate, in short, how one must sort through all the hyperbole and claims. We also brainstormed who the ideal candidate might be (fictional) to align with our respective concerns.

2.   How will rejecting discussion hinder children’s learning and understanding of an issue?

Children are very curious, and they overhear much more than we credit them with, especially given the ubiquitous nature of the media. And they are astute. They may absorb their parents’ political views, and they may speak out based on those views. Conversely, older children may take issue with their parents’ views, creating stress and/or strife. During politically turbulent times, even ten-year-olds can become vocal and stubborn about their point of view—even if it is purely representative of—or in opposition to—the views of their parents.

As teachers, it’s important to value differing opinions and to impart that tolerance to students. Teachers need to be “Switzerland”—neutral when discussing politics. When something controversial comes up in one’s community, such as building a mall versus having open space, use that concrete example to discuss different points of view without taking a stance. Value all positions, such as comparing the benefits of having more taxes from the mall’s businesses contrasted with the benefits of having green space and more recreational opportunities. When I last taught in the public schools, a volunteer parent trained a group of my students in formal debate techniques. All the students listened as they debated a local issue—building a new airport. Their vote was based on the debates and was at variance with the public’s vote, a good lesson in logic and politics.

3.  How should teachers approach questions regarding their own beliefs? – What topics are appropriate for discussion, which aren’t? – How do you teach about current events and politically charged issues without overstepping your role as a teacher (or other education professional)?

Teach your students to be informed consumers of controversial topics. Teach them how to fact check claims that are being made. Discuss which are trusted sources—but acknowledge that each of us have favorite sources of information that may be affected by political preferences.

It is especially helpful to teach propaganda techniques: testimonial, stereotyping, fear appeals, jumping on the bandwagon, gaslighting, name-calling, stacking the deck, glittering generalities. Discuss how a “sound bite” may not reflect the entire picture, particularly noticeable when political candidates or media outlets are “stacking the deck” to make a point.

When a particularly troublesome topic is brought up by the students, it’s fair to say that you are not comfortable with an extended discussion. It’s also appropriate to say that you haven’t made up your mind about something.

If you do want to discuss something controversial because it’s so timely, set up some ground rules before starting the discussion: differing opinions are respected; judgment is suspended; all will listen without interruptions; questions can be asked, etc.

Before starting a discussion, generate acceptable statements such as, “I hear you;” “That’s a good point;” “I get that, but I have a different idea to offer;” “I have been interested in….” Put them on the board so that students can use them before offering their thoughts. Insist on calm and mutual respect.

Be prepared to de-escalate if the topic gets heated. Be sure to wrap up any discussion with acknowledgment that these are tough topics. Give an example of when you thought one way and changed your mind over time. Be prepared to say, “This is a complicated issue. Let’s table it for a week and see if we can find common ground.”

A useful visual is a Venn diagram, such as the Brain Pop diagram below. Contrasting points are listed in the outer portions of the circles, with common ground identified in the overlapping portion. Finding common ground on any topic is especially helpful when wrapping up a topic.

4. How does this tie into mental health for both teachers and students? Is there concern about anxiety/depression, etc?

This is the perfect time to work on teaching empathy and acceptance. Those children who feel like they can’t speak up in class may be subject to deeper feelings of isolation and frustration. Through frank and supportive discussions of politics, you can help all your students learn to speak up respectfully, in a safe setting. Recognize that politics can trigger difficult discussions—one’s parents or caregivers may have deep differences that add stress in the family setting. By modeling neutral and nonjudgmental attitudes, you may be helping that child cope with a variety of conflicts and disagreements. And you’ll be teaching lifelong skills.

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SciFest in DC brings STEM to life for future innovators of all ages


Free expo of world’s leading STEM organizations inspires and educates youth, teaching through hands-on experience


The 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo in Washington DC was an incredible event, packed with more than 3,000 hands-on exhibits, attracting more than 350,000 people over the weekend of April 7-8. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center was packed to the rafters with budding explorers, adventures, scientists, and other proud geeks – the rock stars of the next generation, jockeying for a front-row view of the demos, experiments, and exhibits featuring the world’s leading scientific and engineering societies, universities, government agencies, high-tech corporations and STEM organizations.

It was a good thing and a bad thing that the event was free. No one can argue that access to STEM education is essential to attracting the best minds from all walks of life, regardless of economic ability; so in that respect, the fact that anyone and everyone could go to the Sci Fest was awesome. The downside of this is that it is hard to predict how many bodies will show up when there are no ticket sales; hence, the exhibit halls were crowded to capacity, which ultimately limited the ability of anyone and everyone to get access to the exhibits.

Despite the shoulder to shoulder mobs, we made our way through to experience in a number of the participatory exhibits. My son and his bestie were particularly engaged by the Razor USA demo of the latest Razor Hovertrax self-balancing hover board and Razor’s new Turbo Jetts, with a miniature powertrain and LED light-up wheels powered by an integral generator.

In Razor’s case, it was more of a feet-on demonstration, where the exhibitor allowed my son one foot on the Hovertrax to test out its self-balancing technology, eliciting a genuine, “Wow,” followed by, “I want one!” At least in the case of Razor, it is actually possible for my son to own and master such a machine, whereas getting to ride in the stealth helicopter on display by Lockheed Martin was a bit more pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

Other interactive exhibits included robots and drones that attendees could control and run through obstacle courses or execute tasks. There were many opportunities for kids to conduct experiments with electricity – with safe supervision – kinetic motion and other forces that produce energy, and to learn about chemical interactions and their implications in all matter of uses, from medicinal and nutritional to industrial and agricultural.

While the multiple floors and seemingly endless exhibit halls presented an overwhelmingly exhaustive array of exhibits, in a few hours we were able to partake in and observe enough of the attractions to inspire and stimulate the minds of two curious boys, who walked away from this festival excitedly chattering about how they would create and build their own inventions one day, and that, is exactly what this festival is all about.

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How Social Learning is Critical for Academic Success


The character Sheldon Cooper from the CBS TV show “The Big Bang Theory” is a familiar example from popular culture of an individual who has achieved impressive academic success but experiences difficulty and conflict in his relationships and work life due to his social limitations. While this show provides comedic entertainment for its audience, it also demonstrates a very real struggle for many children: social development and success.

 Social development is an ongoing, lifelong process, but the social learning that occurs in childhood is essential for building and maintaining fulfilling relationships, receiving social acceptance, and ultimately achieving a successful career as adults.

What is social learning?

When we think about social learning, we typically focus on social skills, or the specific behaviors that are expected given a situation (e.g., staying on topic when making a comment during a conversation). However, underlying these skills is “social thinking,” specifically the cognitive processes of figuring out the thoughts, feelings, motives and beliefs of those around us and adjusting our behavior accordingly to ensure that everyone in the social setting is comfortable. Via social thinking we are able to assign meaning to the words and actions of others and read the contextual cues of the social environment, which are critical for social, emotional and academic success, as well as professional fulfillment in the long-term.

How social learning influences academics

Simply being in a classroom is a social situation with expected behaviors that are conducive to learning. The behavior of a student with social-thinking difficulties can interfere with the academic learning of self and peers. For example, interrupting others and lack of volume regulation can both disrupt the attention, processing, and understanding that are required for learning. Social learning also has a direct bearing on the ability to work in a group and engage in cooperative learning.

Social learning can also influence specific academic areas such as reading comprehension and writing. Successful comprehension of the curriculum, particularly as students advance in school, requires social inferencing, understanding figurative language, and engaging in perspective taking. The task of writing requires social thinking in order to take another’s perspective while formulating a persuasive argument or describing a character’s emotions, beliefs, and intentions during narration.

Social difficulties that may affect students with learning differences

Because many types of learning disorders can yield social learning difficulties, students with learning differences may require social thinking intervention to help them with:

●      Perspective taking
●      Relating to peers
●      Making and maintaining friendships
●      Conversation (e.g., initiating and maintaining topics, using comments and questions to expand the           conversation, and avoiding the interruption of others)
●      Working with peers in groups
●      Reading contextual cues of situations to guide expected behavior
●      Understanding the words, actions, and nonverbal cues of others
●      Social wondering
●      Emotional regulation

Fostering social learning alongside academics

Students with social learning difficulties that require additional social thinking intervention can benefit from knowledgeable educators who can address social challenges as they occur in the classroom, on the playground, and at the lunch tables. For instance, a student may need his teacher to help him notice and interpret the contextual cues of the classroom situation (i.e., test papers on desks, students working independently, and silence in the classroom) in order to identify and execute the expected behavior, which is to sit down quietly and begin taking the test.

While public schools are not required to teach social skills, there are other solutions such as external social-skills classes, occupational therapy and private schools that serve students with learning differences. Academic achievement alone will not lead to success in life without healthy social skill development.  Adequate social learning during childhood can yield great professional and personal success.

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Eat & DrinkEducationLifestyle

The all-nighter survival kit


8 items that make the grade for studious students

It’s midterm time, and staying up until the wee hours of the morning is an unfortunate reality for hard-studying students, but pulling an all-nighter does not have to be a miserable experience. Here are a few survival items for making the hours go faster and easier when you’re cramming for a big exam or have to finish that research paper due tomorrow.

A+ lighting

Shed some light on your schoolwork with an OxyLED LED desk lamp. The OxyLED T35 (sale priced $10.27 on Amazon) is a sleek USB-powered foldaway lamp that is dimmable by touching it, and its adjustable head allows you to fold it up to save valuable real estate on your desk.



The OxyLED T36  ($23.99 on Amazon) operates on a USB-charged battery and features a long bendable neck and can clip on the edge of the desk or a bed headboard so you can kick back and shine a light anywhere you choose to study. Both lamps can be dimmed with a touch to the desired light level that is easy on your eyes and can shine just where you need light, so you won’t keep up your roommate.

Yogurt your way

When the dining hall is closed and the vending machine just won’t give you the brain food you need, grab a Siggi’s Triple Cream 9-percent milk fat Icelandic-style strained yogurt for some quick nutrition and energy, without the sugar crash. If a traditional serving container is not your cup of yogurt, Siggi’s drinkable Swedish whole milk yogurt is perfect for imbibing on the go, or for a fast pick-me-up, tuck a Siggi’s tube of strained low-fat yogurt in your backpack to squeeze in some 2-percent milkfat dairy with 5 g of sugar and 5 g of protein and only 50 calories that’ll keep you going when the studying gets tough.



Think drink

Protein means power, and Iconic Protein Drink has the formula for quick energy that is delicious and nutritious. Iconic’s convenient 11.5-ounce serving bottles can be a filling snack or even a meal replacement if time doesn’t allow for to a bite to eat. You can fuel up with 20 g of dairy protein – from grass-fed cows, 3 g of sugar and 130 calories, with no lactose, gluten, soy, carrageenan, GMOs or BPA. Iconic comes in a variety of flavors including Chocolate Truffle, Vanilla Bean and Café Au Lait. Get a sample pack of each flavor for $12.99.

Instant gratification

Want a great cup of Joe to help you make it through the night, but you don’t have time to hit a café? Indulge in a class cup of caffeine with Kuju Coffee, a one cup portable drip coffee brand that is perfect for brewing up in a dorm room. Kuju’s Pocket PourOver ready-to-brew filter anchors to your mug so you can brew craft quality coffee, without a percolator. Kuju not only tastes good, the brand does good by sourcing its beans from a family farm in Thailand that employs former sex trafficking victims, and Kuju donates 1% of sales to the National Parks Foundation. Travel 5-Pack available for $24.95 at,

Clean energy

When your reserves are running low, fuel up with the clean energy of Zevia Energy drinks, the clear carbonated energy drink in flavors like Kola, Mango Ginger and Raspberry Lime that will give you a zing with 120 mg of natural caffeine without slogging you down with sugar and mind-gunking ingredients like artificial sweeteners and coloring. While your party schedule is on hold until the last bell rings, that doesn’t mean you can’t take time for a mocktail happy hour with a Zevia zero-calorie mixer. Enjoy the straight-up flavors of Dry Lemon Lime and Ginger Beer as a deserved refresher on a study break and of course a most-excellent elixir for the celebration after you ace the test. Grab a variety 12-pack of energy 12 for $18.99 on Amazon, or shop for Zevia products at grocers nationwide.


Raise the (snack) bar

If a diet of liquid lunch has got you craving something to crunch, try Granola Cups from Nature Valley, a satisfying mix of a dry snack with a creamy filled center. Stock up with a 5-count pack of 6 for $33.63 on Amazon, or pick up a box of five-pouches (each with two cups) at Target. If your snacking style leans more to the leafy and fruity, go for a LÄRABAR Fruit and Greens bar, packed with natural nutrition in flavor combos like Pineapple Kale Cashew and Mango Spinach Cashew. Grab a four-pack for $4.99 on Amazon or at retailers nationwide including Target and Walmart.





An Appetite for appetizers

Begin your exam prep with a trip to the grocery store to stock up the freezer with Hip Chick Farms artisan organic poultry products like chicken fingers, meatballs, and sausage patties that can make quick, hot and hardy meals to get you through a long night of hitting the books. All of Hip Chick Farms’ products contain no artificial ingredients, stabilizers, preservatives or fillers and are picky-eater approved. Available at Target and other grocery stores nationwide.

The full-ride chair

Nothing will make a long night of studying longer than an uncomfortable chair, so invest in your education with a quality seat. The Modway Attainment Drafting Stool is a versatile ergonomic office chair that can rise to the occasion with an adjustable height that adapts to various desks (44” and higher) and is ideal for sit-stand desks. The caster wheels make for easy mobility, and a three-inch thick foam seat cushion, mesh back, padded flip-up arms and a foot-rest ring at the base helps keep you sitting comfy for hours. Available online at for $141 or office supply stores nationwide.


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Five Back-to-School Body Language Tips to Fight off Bullies


Expert gives tips for children on posture to express confidence and strength

Going back to school should be an exciting time in every child’s or teen’s life. They get to see their friends after the summer break and make new ones. However, a lot of students are faced with severe anxiety and stress when a new school year comes around. Whether it’s facing the school bully, not having the confidence to raise their hand and participate in class or even just trying to make friends, a student’s body language can become a tool to turn the social and scholastic experience of school into a positive one. Body language and image expert, Yana German, shares tips for students on how to pass the school year with flying colors.

German’s personal story inspired her to help other children who are bullied. After relocating to the US during her teenage years due to anti- semitism in her native Belarus, German became an easy target for bullies at school. “ My parents couldn’t afford much, so most of my clothing came from refugee charities,” explains German. “Kids would make fun of me because I wasn’t dressed well and would throw food at me during lunch,” continues German. The bullying got to the point where German had to drop out of school for a year in order to get her confidence back and continue her education. Today, German is a mother to two daughters and shares her body language tips to ward off bullies.

One of the most important tips is to keep an open posture. “Parents should always encourage their kids to stand up straight with their head and chin up,” says Yana. “Having great posture will instantly boost your confidence. Pulling your shoulders back and opening your chest is one quick fix that works wonders. Not only does it make you taller it boosts your inner confidence,” explains German.

When a student is talking to another child he/she should always look them in the eye. “Nothing gives away your fear more than not looking at the person you are speaking to.” says German. “Looking someone in the eye and maintaining that contact for as long as you can is a great non-verbal way of expressing your confidence,” adds German.

When someone is bullied it’s really hard, if not impossible to respond with empathy. “Shy and vulnerable kids are usually easy targets for bullies. That’s why it’s really important to smile,” suggests German. “Smiling serves as your barrier towards any negativity, and bullies rarely target children who seem to be happy, calm and radiate good energy,” adds German. When a student rarely smiles, it can be a warning sign of low self-esteem.

When we are feeling self-conscious, we naturally tend to become “smaller.” We want to shrink away into the room so that nobody notices us. This means  we may hunch over, hide in a corner and cross our arms and legs until we almost disappear. German says the best way to gain confidence is to physically take up more space than usual. “If you are standing, take a wider stance than usual, put your arms on your hips. If you are sitting with a desk in front of you, use your arms on the desk to take up space.”German says. “This will make you feel more powerful and instantly give you more confidence.”

Relax your arms and open up your shoulders. “When a child or teen crosses his/her arms, it sends out a defensive signal that they want to be left alone,” explains German.  “He can put his hands in his pockets if he feels awkward holding his arms by his side. What’s important is that he keeps his torso open.  When the child’s arms at their side and they face the other child heart to heart it shows others he’d like to make new friends.”

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Combating learning loss over school breaks


Preventing academic backsliding takes effort

Kids are back to school, and parents, kids, teachers and just about everyone agrees, summer is too short. But educators all agree that one aspect of summer makes it too long, and that is learning loss. This is defined as the amount of education that children forget over their summer break.
After approximately two months, researchers point out that kids can lose up to 30% of their educational gains during the year. Parents have many options to combat learning loss, including working with teachers to come up with a summer study program, whereby children dedicate a portion of their day to learning activities, specifically reading, writing, and arithmetic. The problem is that many parents work and don’t have time to teach their children at home, and this is too much of an ask for most nannies and babysitters. Experts day there are other options other than summer school; parents just have to know where to look.
Facilities like Groza Learning Center make combating learning loss a little easier for parents because they offer a variety of programs that can be designed around an individual child and the child and parents’ learning objectives. Programs like those at Groza Learning Center not only keep kids engaged over the summer, they can help associate summer fun with learning, to help children develop a positive attitude about schooling.
The number of hours a child needs to be involved in educational activities over the summer varies child to child, but generally at least a couple hours per day can help children retain more of their learning, and most experts agree structured programs also contribute to good discipline and good habits that a child can carry on beyond schooling.
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