Jennifer Wilkinson is a board member of AFE. She is also a 2nd Grade teacher at Cumberland Elementary School. Last year she was able to participate in a State Department sponsored fellowship program., Teachers For Global Classrooms. The following is her description of the program and the impact that it has had on her students.
What do 2nd graders in St. Petersburg, Russia have in common with 2nd graders in Whitefish Bay, WI? Is it possible to take 21 kids to Antarctica to visit penguins? Can 2nd graders think of a way to keep Lake Michigan healthy and clean and share their ideas with people around the world? Over this past year as a participant in a fellowship program called Teachers for Global Classrooms, I discovered the answers to all of these questions and more. One of my greatest passions has always been travel, so when I saw a flier for a program for teachers that would send me to another country for two to three weeks, I did not think twice about applying. Little did I know that this application would introduce me to the idea of global education and result in an experience that would transform my approach to teaching.
Teachers for Global Classrooms is a US State Department sponsored fellowship for K-12 teachers in the USA. The purpose of the program is to “equip teachers to bring an international perspective to their schools through targeted training, experience abroad and global collaboration”. My cohort consisted of 80 teachers from around the country. The fellowship began with an intensive online course covering theory and practice in global education. After the online-course was finished, both myself and my principal, Jayne Heffron, attended a Global Education Symposium in Washington DC. Both the online course and the symposium gave me a new understanding of the pace at which global developments will influence the lives my of students. The reality is that the 2nd graders I am teaching now will need to have an understanding of and investment in the world beyond their immediate communities.
I realized that this did not mean I had to add anything new to my curriculum, (we have more than enough to do! ) Instead, I used the idea of globalizing my teaching help me to make my lessons more engaging and meaningful for my students. For example, when learning subtraction, we compared the temperature of Whitefish Bay with cities around the world and calculated the differences. For our reading classes we found another classroom in Ohio that was reading the same book and exchanged letters sharing our ideas and thoughts about the characters. In our science class, we were able to Skype with a researcher in Antarctica to learn about how penguins adapt to their environments. For social studies, we collaborated with a German class to create upcycled objects as a way to reduce plastic waste in the environment. The kids were learning, and it was fun! They were also learning to consider perspectives other than their own and get the idea that it is possible to take action to make changes, even though they are just seven years old!
The final part of the program (and the reason I had initially signed up!) was the international field experience. I was beyond excited to learn that I would get to travel to Colombia, a country that I knew almost nothing about. I was able to spend three weeks there touring schools, cultural sights and working with Colombian teachers. I saw and experienced more than I could possibly convey in this short article, but my biggest take away from my time there was the observation that education is the single and most powerful way to empower people to improve their lives. This is as true in Whitefish Bay as it is in Colombia.
I am excited to continue to build on the connections that I made during this fellowship to establish even more meaningful connections between my students and kids from around the world. I am even more excited to see my teaching colleagues take some of these ideas and integrate them into their teaching.
You can read more about Jennifer’s trip and global education by going to her blog: 2nd Grade Goes Global