Monday, July 30, 2012

A Gift to Teachers: A Trip to the Arctic

In December 2011 an email arrived in my inbox with the subject heading “Our Gift to Teachers: A Trip to the Arctic”.  It was from National Geographic Education.  I was curious so I read further. 

National Geographic, in collaboration with Lindblad Expeditions and Google, is proud to announce that applications are now being accepted for the 2012 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program. Selected fellows will travel on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to the Arctic, as well as to National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., for professional development prior to the trip. The program celebrates excellence in geographic education and is meant to reward teachers committed to National Geographic's goal of inspiring students to care about the planet.

If you are a teacher who has demonstrated a commitment to these values in your work, please apply by January 31, 2012!

I had written about travel for teachers in an April, 2011 posting and knew immediately that this was an experience I had to apply for.  THE ARCTIC!!!  The “top” of the globe, the land of courageous explorers of the 19th century, polar bears, arctic terns, and ice.  The poster child of climate change, and a place I never dreamed I would see with my own eyes. 

Svalbard is just east of Greenland and 500 miles south of the North Pole.

Applying for positions can be daunting, but this one seemed more than worth the risk of rejection. Like most of us, I had no trouble seeing myself as a legitimate candidate. My love of geography as a framework for developing curriculum is genuine.  A world map and a globe are always within sight of my classroom meeting area. The reason I learned about the trip is that I often use the wonderful resources available through the National Geographic Education Website. I care deeply about the planet, and through teaching always hope I might inspire students to care as well. All I had to do was fill out the application by the deadline and then wait.

This spring students where happy to work and wonder
in our school garden at a near by P-patch.
Students are encouraged to ask
questions in their journals
While I was waiting a curious thing began to happen - that thing that occurs when your attention shifts even just a fraction of a compass point away from the usual here and now.  The entire world and everything that we know was suddenly being viewed through the lens of geography, specifically, the geography of the Arctic. In the classroom, caring about the planet is a natural outcome when students learn to understand the world through a strong sense of place.  Why people do what they do, eat what they eat, look the way they do, build houses the way they do, all has to do with where in the world they are located.  The fear and judgment that sometimes come from being different can be defused with a strong understanding of literally where each of us comes from.

A sketch made by a student in my class
about birds' beak shapes.
 In February I got the call!  I was going to the Arctic; I had been named a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow for 2012.  I was thrilled! I teach elementary school, and it isn’t very often that elementary teachers are validated in this way.  We teach children to read, to ask questions, to work together in groups and, yes, to care.  We spend time with these human beings at a point when their brains are growing at a tremendous rate, and every day the children amaze us by taking risks, trying harder, and learning more then even we might think possible. This is the validation we come to expect, and it is truly gratifying. But National Geographic?  Wow!

Under the stars at National Geographic Headquarters n Washington D,C,

Teachers, you aren’t going to go if you don’t apply.  This is a fantastic program, and I encourage you to apply.  If you haven’t explored the National Geographic Education website now is the time to check it out.  Your students will thank you, and maybe someday you will find yourself going to the Arctic.  It is an amazing way for National Geographic to say thank you to teachers.  Please let me know when you go!
(This is the first in a series of posts about the Arctic)

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