April 1, 2015
Charity Navigator, a website designed to inform potential donors about charities before they invest, is without a doubt one of the best teaching aides available to America’s teachers. With the need today of methods for presenting multi-disciplinary lessons, Charity Navigator offers classroom teachers opportunities of combining reading, mathematics, critical thinking, and computer skills with a great additional benefit. The lessons learned in the classroom can be taken home to help parents become better consumers too.
I overlooked Charity Navigator as a classroom enhancement long before I came to value it as a consumer. Like nearly every American, I rarely returned from the mailbox with less than two appeals for money. The flyers could not help but tug at the “heart strings.” Long ago, I found that using Charity Navigator allowed me to choose between programs really applying my contributions as I wished from those who were scams.
It took my students to bring this knowledge to the classroom. My fifth grade class was involved in a school-sponsored effort to raise money for a charity to help children with health problems. Just out of curiosity, I checked the particular charity on Charity Navigator and found over half of the money went to fundraising and administration.
Incorporating the information was not difficult. Teaching critical thinking skills is an ongoing activity so bringing a sample charity brochure to class did not seem unusual. I ran off copies so that each student could have one to read. We looked for “loaded words,” endorsements, and the other techniques used typically in advertisements. It was when I asked whether anyone knew of a statistical method of evaluating the charity that the questioning looks appeared. I had them hooked.
I asked if anyone had heard of Charity Navigator—a computer program. The last three words were important because elementary students “need” to be aware of every program on the market. Of course, the answer to the question was—“No.” I asked them to join me around my computer, accessed the site, and typed in the name of the charity. Charity Navigator worked its magic. Presented to the students in graphic form (which tied in nicely with the chapter on graphs and charts in the math text) were the intimate details of the charity. I explained the “administrative” and “fund-raising” sections. They could figure out the “program.” I then turned to the comparative section on Charity Navigator to see how this charity ranked with others of the same category. It happened to be quite good.
Then came the big question, how did they think the school-sponsored charity rated? They were not impressed after we looked it up. This led to a crescendo of questions. Critical thinking skills again entered the mix as we discussed, using the graph, where their money was going.
I asked each student to bring to class the name of a charity to which their parents contributed. The following day, we surveyed these charities with the students gathering information to take home to their parents. We discussed their parents’ reaction the following day.
How would I make the lesson better? I’ve changed my approach several times. Is there a computer laboratory in your building? Sign it out for a period so that students can access the information they want more quickly. Have the students actually write letters to their parents explaining the purpose of the activity, what they found, and suggestions as to how their parents should or should not change their donations. If you have a school-sponsored charity activity, research the charity and have interested students write to the school board explaining the research and what they uncovered. This could lead to a recommendation to change—or continue—the activity.
Whether this activity leads to positive student activism or not is not the issue. Using Charity Navigator makes sense. In one lesson, you have incorporated critical thinking skills, mathematics, reading and computer skills. You have instilled a relevance to each of these curriculum areas with a multi-disciplinary approach. You have turned your students into educators—of their parents—and perhaps even made a better-informed charity donor of yourself.
By: Randy Lyon (retired)
Hoover Elementary School—38 years