Since the start of this academic school year, Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (CPBN) education specialists have traveled to Hartford middle schools to teach media literacy and civil discourse as part of the organization’s Thinkalong™ program.
Thinkalong™, created and developed by education fellow Rose Pierre-Louis and Vice President of Media Strategy Beth Messina, is an innovative initiative that utilizes public media resources to teach students about pressing societal issues while simultaneously instructing them in how to properly evaluate information sources and to engage with their classmates in respectful debates. Media resources are from PBS, NPR, WNPR, CPTV and other affiliates, and cover a range of topics from climate change to self-driving cars to immigration reform.
After weeks of initial classroom visits, Ms. Pierre-Louis constructed a speech competition to connect classrooms, add extra incentive for students to participate, and potentially gamify the Thinkalong™ process. Three different schools were assigned the same Thinkalong™ modules and using these same shared resources were assigned to defend their position on a given prompt. The debate topic in question: should humans colonize Mars?
As part of their classroom visits during late November, CPBN’s education specialist team recorded students presenting their speeches, documenting the middle schoolers’ passionate defense of their arguments.
Those who stood in opposition to Mars’ potential colonization drew parallels to how humans have colonized the Earth, raising questions over how distribution of Mars’ resources would be handled diplomatically. “If we were to colonize Mars, who would get what of the planet?” remarked Fred, an eighth grader from Jumoke Academy. “Due to our political disputes going on now and the disputes that will happen later, we will not be able to decide what continents on Earth will get what parts of Mars and when it’s the time to decide it may cause dispute – and maybe wars.”
Others saw colonizing Mars as a practical alternative to living on a troubled planet like Earth, while also recognizing the opportunity as one that could inspire human innovation. Kemani, a seventh grader from Breakthrough Magnet School, argued “I think humans should colonize Mars because if something were to happen to Earth then we would have a second planet to fall back on. And it would give humans another reason to explore other planets and expand their way of thinking.”
On both sides of the issue, students had prepared well-reasoned, researched, and enthusiastic arguments. Reflecting on the experience, Ms. Pierre-Louis could not help but take pride in the progress the students had demonstrated. “I’m so proud of the competition and the students that participated in it” she said. “After two months of working with them to think critically about news events and critique their own ideas as well as those of their peers, the speech competition was a chance for the students to show off their new skills.”
The recorded speeches are currently being judged by CPBN staff, including the company’s President & CEO Jerry Franklin and his wife, Ida. The top five students from all three of the schools participating will receive a special prize from CPBN. Winners are to be announced in late January.
About the CPBN Learning Lab
As part of a partnership with Hartford Public Schools, CPBN offers a satellite campus focused on video and audio production, editing, television and radio journalism, digital arts and game design– for high school students from Hartford’s Journalism & Media Academy Magnet School. For adults interested in pursuing a media career or simply interested in gaining technical skills to advance in their already established fields, CPBN’s Institute for Advanced Media (IAM) provides classes in the basics of video production, from pre-production to post-production, digital arts and the project management skills for life seminar. A program of the IAM, the Veterans Vocational Training Program (VVTP) is designed to help veterans transition their military skills to civilian careers by providing free IAM courses and hands-on career training to 50 veterans a year as well as their spouses and caregivers. In addition to providing media education, project management and workforce development, the VVTP provides life coaching and personal support that addresses the whole person, and helps students navigate and connect with state agencies and partners that can help ease their transition. CPBN also offers a range of opportunities to college students through the CPBN Media Lab, with classes focusing on storyboarding, video production, web content creation and social media.
For more information about JMA and enrollment opportunities, contact the SVP of Education:
For more information about the Thinkalong™ program, please visit the following link: