Angela Crawford recently returned from an inspiring trip to Iceland as a Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Read about how this experience and her love of travel shapes her English classroom lessons.
Oh the Places You’ll Go, the Dr. Seuss favorite, is read aloud at many high school graduations, ours included.
My incoming senior AP English Literature class is walking into a year of “going places.” Among other destinations, we will be going to Africa, Asia, Iceland, and the Middle East, as we read Things Fall Apart, The Joy Luck Club, The Blue Fox, and Persepolis.
The vast majority of my students see very little of the world outside their neighborhood, near Ben C. Rain High School in Mobile, Alabama. Actually, they and their families see very little of the rest of the city, much less the region, country, or world. They spend their summers working or at home, not traveling.
My students show great interest in my own travels, however, and I want to demystify the process for them—to open up the possibility of travel, to pique their curiosity about places of which they’ve only heard. I also want to teach them valuable 21st literacy skills and help them incorporate a geo-education mindset.
For these reasons, it was an honor to be selected as a 2014 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and travel on board the National Geographic Explorer for a circumnavigation of Iceland. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program is a professional development opportunity made possible by a partnership between National Geographic Education and Lindblad Expeditions. It provides teachers with a once-in-a-lifetime, field-based experience and the opportunity to find new ways to bring geographic education to our classrooms.
(See Angela experience Iceland in this video!)
On the first day of school, my students were eager to hear about my journey to Iceland. But I would first send students on their own “journey” to different regions of the world that correspond to the literature we will read this year.
Students were assigned to one of seven groups representing different continents or regions, and were then assigned individual countries within that region. Each student planned a journey to his or her country: how to get to the destination, what to do there, and other details—like figuring out currency.
“I never thought travel was possible. Not for someone like me,” Jasmine wrote. “I now see that with a lot of planning and passion, I can go places too!”
Even though no one was going to the same country, my classroom became a beehive of collaborative activity as students used personal devices and classroom laptops for research and shared strategies for booking flights, searching for hostels, and reading train schedules.
I circulated among them with ideas and advice. For example, I asked the girls ‘traveling’ to the Middle East if it would be appropriate for them to wear their usual summer clothes in Saudi Arabia or Jordan. (They quickly determined it would not!)
I urged students to research budget travel and look for opportunities in which volunteer work could subsidize some of their expenses. I also urged students to plan for travel that is low-impact, responsible, and sustainable. Because he knew about my volunteer work in the favelas of Latin America, the young man ‘traveling’ to Brazil and I discussed whether he should plan a homestay in a favela or book a room at a hotel on Rio de Janeiro’s famous beaches. This led to a classroom conversation about the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler.
For the final project, each student was responsible for an itinerary in PDF format. Additionally, each group designed a digital poster using Glogster, an online tool which combines text, audio, video, images, and hyperlinks and allows users to share electronic content. The digital poster, which had links to group members’ individual itineraries as well as media highlighting the region and a QR code, was then formally presented to the class. I downloaded and printed a classroom mega-map from National Geographic’s MapMaker kits, and each poster’s QR code was placed on it.
The classroom map will serve as our blueprint throughout the year as we increase our geographic literacy by reading multicultural novels, engaging with international peers through online collaboration projects, and acting with a sense of global responsibility in service projects.
After spending two weeks planning their own trips to a formerly unknown place, not only are their perspectives expanded, but they were truly able to appreciate the tales of Iceland that I brought back for them.
“I never thought travel was possible. Not for someone like me,” wrote Jasmine, one of my students. “I now see that with a lot of planning and passion, I can go places too!”
Angela Crawford is a two-time National Board Certified English teacher in Mobile, Alabama. A recent Fund for Teachers fellow, she taught in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to develop a more global consciousness within herself and her students. Check out Angela’s blog to hear more about her trip to Iceland and creative teaching methods.
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