“Had I been asked to define global education, even just a few years ago, I would have said it was students learning about the world. I would have thought that I was doing it with my 7th graders because our curriculum is world geography. And I would have been wrong.”

These three sentences are the first piece of text people read when reading my Capstone Project for TGC IREX.  TGC (Teachers for Global Classrooms) is quite simply, the best professional development program I’ve ever participated in. I applied in 2015 and took an 8 week online course about global education, participated in a Global Education Symposium in Washington D.C., then spent three weeks in Colombia last Summer learning about their education system, talking and working with Colombian teachers, and best of all, working with Colombian students. I could spend the entire blog post talking about what a great experience it was, but that isn’t the point of this post.

Instituci√≥n Educativa Aquilino Bedoya – One of the many amazing schools I visited in Pereira, Colombia.
What I learned from TGC was global education. There were about 80 teachers from all over the country that participated, and I was shocked to learn that very, very few of them were geography teachers. Like, you could count them on one hand. There were elementary teachers who never had a chance to discuss any of the social sciences let alone geography. There were middle school and high school teachers that taught math, science, language arts, foreign language, art, music, and anything else you can imagine. They were there to learn the same thing as me – global education.

So what is global education? Global education is so much more than learning about other countries. It’s about learning that there are different perspectives to an issue. It’s about learning that there is no single story that explains a country or culture. It’s about the realization that learning about a topic is nothing without taking action on it.

There are 4 components to global education:

  1. Investigating the world
  2. Recognizing perspectives
  3. Communicating ideas
  4. Taking action.

So let me run through a quick example of making a lesson more global.

The last unit in my curriculum is Latin America. One of the issues that we discuss is deforestation in the Amazon Basin. A few years ago, my lesson might have been to talk about how big the Amazon Rain Forest is, how much of it has been destroyed, and then talk about what we, as Americans, can do to stop deforestation.

But, over the last few years, I’ve used “Taking a position on human activity in the Amazon Rain Forest” from National Geographic. This has really been a game changer. It’s the perfect start to a global education lesson.

Investigating the world:

We look at 3 different construction projects occurring in the Amazon: a dam, a road, and a mine. We use a variety of newspaper articles (most are in the lesson) to learn more about what these projects would accomplish.

Recognizing perspectives:

We talk about stakeholders. Who is going to be impacted by this project, both good and bad? We talk about the wildlife, but also indigenous populations, people who live in nearby towns and cities, and the rest of Brazil. Students realize that it is easy for Americans living thousands of miles away to say don’t build it, but far more difficult if you are a Brazilian looking for clean energy or a miner looking for work.

Communicating ideas: (this is where I run out of time and need to do better next year!)

How can we share our findings? Communicating ideas is both finding the right tool to communicate what we found, but also finding a sensitive way to do it. The language we use needs to not reflect a uniquely American point of view. The ideas need to not just show that students see a variety of perspectives, but would want to collaborate with people with those perspectives. For this lesson, I had students do one minute argument videos about whether the construction projects should be done, weighing who would be impacted by these projects. If I had more time, we would have done them again, but use the green screen to show what they are talking about.

Taking Action: (the hardest part, but maybe the most important)

And without a doubt, the most fun for students! Set up a Skype with a classroom looking at the same issue and compare notes. Have students share their videos with other people (outside of our classroom). Make recommendations to officials and companies who can do something to address the issue. Get feedback from someone who is a stakeholder! This is what students will remember, not a test on the content.

It is hard to change your lessons overnight, but it can be done. Start by picking one piece to improve. Maybe it’s the perspectives part (that was an eye opener for my students). Maybe it is communicating in a new way.

What are your thoughts? What is a lesson that you could transform and make more global? Comment below and join #worldgeochat on Tuesdays at 9 Eastern!



2 thoughts on “You don’t need to teach geography to be a global educator

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