The Power in Numbers


Those are my numbers. Not my sleep numbers, favorite lottery numbers, or for my very unique combination lock for the gym. Those are respectively the numbers of…

mosquito nets
people treated for tropical diseases

that I could effectively provide, pay for, and save…with just donating 10% of my income each year—to another part of the world.


This recent Co.EXIST article highlights the potential magnitude of effective altruism discussed in the forthcoming book Doing Good Better by William MacAskill. The article includes some pointed statistics regarding how rich we really are in the U.S. in comparison to the rest of the world–and simply because of our comparative wealth, how impactful just one measly dollar could be to helping others we would never normally see, think of, or even know about:

If you make $52,000 a year, you’re richer than 99% of the people on the planet. With a salary of $28,000, you’re in the top 5%. And even if you’re below the poverty line of $11,000 a year, you’re still making more than 85% of the world.

Yes, these numbers are very sobering.

Knowing of these numbers, does this mean that we should stop giving locally, and instead give globally?

What about the movement to “go local”? What about our neighborhoods, communities, cities in need? What about the people around us?

How does this knowledge affect how we should think about what giving means and how we should give—if at all?

But if the Internet has made the world flat—aren’t we already local in a way?

These are potential questions we could be asking kids—or better, get them to ask—as a prime opportunity for bringing the world into their world.

Some current experiential activities such as Skyping with a school in another country, or exploring a distant geographical destination via a Google Connected Classrooms’ Virtual Field Trips are no doubt both fun and real for kids—two qualities driving innovative instruction now, among others.

I say, if you want to go there, then really go there, by making the virtual learning even more real with numbers that talk, and deserve to be talked about.

Disclaimer here, though—sharing these kinds of statistics isn’t meant as a way to guilt students, or even ourselves, into giving; rather, these numbers implicitly act as a vehicle for widening our perspective from “me” to “we,” while layering in another meaning to “going global.”

Examining the effects of “generosity gone global” could also be good for your brain and your body.

According to a Harvard study on prosocial spending, the giver can receive as much as the recipient—especially when the giver experiences one or more of these “core human needs”—

relatedness (opportunity for social connection)
competence (ability to see the impact of the gift)
autonomy (freedom of choice)

Of course, spending is not the same as giving…and charity supposedly begins at home…but if one dollar can really do so much more somewhere else than here, it’s worth doing a little more thinking about what we can do with what we have.

Curious about how far your dollar would stretch around the globe?

Use the “How Rich Am I?” calculator located on the homepage of Giving What We Can—an organization founded by MacAskill—dedicated to eliminating extreme poverty and inspiring donations to effective global charities.


This simple tool could be an accessible springboard into defining what human rights are, exploring social justice issues in the news, or examining what freedom and peace look like worldwide.

It could also be used in tandem with other rich interactive resources to develop a wider frame of reference and spark ideas for a mashup service-learning/PBL/Guided Inquiry project led by students.

What about a maker space, Genius Hour, or 20%Time tie-in? Instead of kids making stuff for themselves, what about for others? Or let kids run with any independent project ideas related to the issues that resonate with them.

Here’s a beginning list of strategies and resources worth adding to your palette of options.

Questions for Inquiry

You could pose some driving/guiding/essential questions—or you could allow kids to generate their own to drive their inquiry by using the Question Formulation Technique.

If you want to have a few in your back pocket as a reference, some possibilities could be:

What is the value of a dollar…here or in —?

What does it mean to give?

What are the essentials you really need to live–and what can you live without?

What is a community? Where does one end and another begin?

What does world peace look like? How are peace and prosperity connected?

What’s the difference between a local and a global problem?

What are the essential human rights everyone should have?

What does social justice look like–and why should we care?

Interactive Exploration

A previous project I collaborated on for an 8th grade contemporary literacy course focused on rights and freedoms around the world.  As an entry point for students to build background and offer possible paths for further research, I developed this google site hosting online centers for exploration. Albeit a bit out of date now, the platform worked well as an active invitation for students to learn more beyond what they initially discovered there.

Consider creating interactive experiences for kids to connect their current understandings to what they may discover via online centers, rotating stations, or physical/virtual games to open inquiry.

Some sites to try:

Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index

Freedom House

Students Rebuild

Games for Change

Game Changer

10 Educational Games That Teach Kids About Social Issues

MIT Global Challenges Issue

Visual Analysis

14669412344Using the familiar and the desired—income and money—or even the more familiar—food—is one way to stimulate curiosity.

Or you could even start at the very beginning—with breakfast.

Show an image from this NYTimes Magazine photo essay of what kids eat around the world and lead a visual analysis using the Visual Thinking Strategies method or the What Makes You Say That routine from Project Zero.

Other image resources to try:

National Geographic Photos of People & Culture

National Geographic Flickr Group

More Food (and Stuff) for Thought

Don’t forget the power of the book! Try book tie-ins that show how we eat/live/learn across the world:

What the World Eats

Hungry Planet

Material World

What I Eat

Design for the Other 90%

Design with the Other 90%: Cities

Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People

Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World

Toy Stories: Children from Around the World and Their Favorite Things

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