|Teacher Mike Zimmerman stands in the hallway of KIPP NYC College Prep High School's newly renovated building in the Bronx. This is his third year teaching at the charter school. Photo by Elis Estrada
Mike Zimmerman: Bringing Real-World Learning Into the Classroom
The first time he taught the News Literacy Project’s “Information Neighborhoods” lesson to the 10th and 11th graders in his elective journalism and news literacy class at KIPP NYC College Prep High School in New York, Mike Zimmerman told his students that they would be watching a series of videos on the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“Wait a minute: Osama bin Laden is dead?” his students asked.
“Wait a minute: You didn’t know that?” Zimmerman responded.
It had been several months since the widely reported killing of the al-Qaeda leader by U.S. Navy SEALs, but somehow his students hadn’t gotten the word. So instead of proceeding with the lesson, Zimmerman went to Google News to look at May 1, 2011. The date showed a spike in searches related to bin Laden.
“Huh, I wonder what happened on this date?” he asked his students. “Let’s click on it … He was killed.”
That was just over a year ago, and now those same students, having moved on from Zimmerman’s class, still swing by his office to chat about the day’s news and collect a free copy of The New York Times provided through NLP.
“I think there is something almost addicting about being in the know and being able to converse about these things intelligently,” said Zimmerman, who is teaching his third session of the semester-long class developed in partnership with NLP.
“Kids are starting to see that news is a part of the adult world that they want to be involved in. They’re able to connect with it and understand it, and they want to discuss what’s going on.”
Julissa Bernabe, a 10th grader in Zimmerman’s class, agrees. “The class has opened my eyes to realize what goes on around me and my community,” she said.
Zimmerman, 28, has seen his students work with NLP journalists to launch and publish three issues of the school’s first newspaper, The Growler.
The paper had an immediate impact. After it published an article about the student government’s lack of initiative and responsiveness, members of the student council opened the group’s next meeting by reading the piece aloud and discussing how they could address the problems.
Zimmerman cites the visits by NLP journalist fellows as a highlight for his students, including a session with Nancy Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers’ Middle East bureau chief, who Skyped in from Cairo. But he says having Barney Calame, a former Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor, provide feedback on early drafts of The Growler was particularly special.
“It was amazing for me and equally amazing for the kids to have someone of that stature give them feedback on what they produce,” he said. "They took his feedback way more seriously then they take mine.”
Overall, Zimmerman, who has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College, said NLP’s curriculum “fits like a lock and key” with his students.
“The News Literacy Project has been invaluable,” he said. “Helpful for planning and executing instruction, bringing real-world experience into the classroom, and motivating students to create the school’s first newspaper while becoming journalists and watchful news consumers themselves.”