The Learning Network: "Teaching About the Typhoon in the Philippines"

The New York Times has a series in education called The Learning Network. Its mission is to provide materials for teaching and learning that are based or derived from the content of the newspaper. This past week, the Learning Network shined a spotlight on the recent super typhoon that devastated the islands of central Philippines: "Teaching About the Typhoon in the Philippines". The lesson starts with a powerful video:

This video comes with the following warning: "Please preview this Times video as there are many graphic images." The video is then followed by suggestions for lesson plans. Starting with the basics, a class can begin exploring the news to find out more about what happened. Students can also get acquainted with Tacloban City, what it was before the typhoon struck. Some of the contents in the New York Times that can be used to dive deeper into this catastrophic event is an article "Messages to and from Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan".  The recent typhoon also provides an opportunity to discuss in class science lessons on hurricane, typhoons or cyclones. One can extend this further into environmental science and climate change.

Of course, there are also lessons on relief aid. All of us could probably use a lesson or two on how to extend aid to victims of typhoons. Aid works both ways - it makes us feel better knowing we have contributed - and hopefully, it does help the victims. It is only the latter part, however, that measures the effectiveness of our aid. We can bring clothes, food, and other items. And these are not simply what we could do without. In some cases, these are really all we could afford. Giving something material, seeing with our eyes what they are, makes us connected to the people in need. But we do need to pause and study this further. Before you pack those bottles of drinking water and canned goods, think about these:
  • How far are you from the Philippines? Washngton, DC, for example, is thousands of miles away from Tacloban. Relief goods transported via container ships will take four to five weeks to reach Manila. How much longer it would take for the goods from Manila to reach the victims is an open ended question. 
  • The weight of the relief goods sent determines how much energy will be spent in the transportation. If these typhoons are indeed getting stronger because of human activity - wasting energy and emitting more carbon dioxide probably does more damage than the help being provided by the aid. Would you actually board a plane, especially now with baggage fees, with the relief box you are about to send? 
  • There are local businesses in the Philippines. These stores, for example, sell bottled water, canned goods. Buying these items there support the local economy. 
With the above, it should become clear that with regard to disaster relief donations, cash is really the best aid.

There is math in these lessons. There is indeed a lot to learn about typhoons.