Educator of the Week Flying Classroom Resource

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Natalie Coleman is the Science and Social Science Program Coordinator at Joliet Public Schools District 86 in Illinois. She has 10 years of experience in education.

Teacher with piolet
Natalie Coleman with Barrington Irving at her district’s STEM Extravaganza. Photograph by Sandy Zalewski

Activity: The Flying Classroom
Grades: 6-8
Time: Ongoing

Learning takes flight with Barrington Irving—literally!

This year our district introduced our junior high students, who are part of our National Geographic Bee Club, to The Flying Classroom. The Flying Classroom is a program—created by pilot and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Barrington Irving—that follows him on his adventures and includes STEM curriculum for grades 6-8.

Barrington Irving is the first African American and youngest pilot to fly solo around the world. His program allows students to virtually follow him around the world as he completes STEM missions from Shanghai, China to Sydney, Australia and back to the United States. Our students participated in a Skype conversation with Barrington while he was in Shanghai.

In early January 2015, Barrington flew to Illinois to visit and speak to our students at our annual STEM Extravaganza. This district event featured the science fair winners from each of our four junior high schools. Students presented their research projects and competed to move on to the regional competition. It was thrilling to hear Barrington talk about his around the world trip. He included stories about some of the foods he ate, the places he visited, and most importantly the science behind it all. He encouraged our students to study math and science, live their dreams, and stay focused.

How did this activity impact your students?

Students were able to connect their world to students in Shanghai by learning about their culture, environment, and education system. Students posed questions to Barrington about what they could do to make their world sustainable when it comes to renewable energy and buildings.

Students talking with Barrington Irving via Skype.
Students talking with Barrington Irving via Skype. Photograph by Sandy Zalewski

How does teaching with a global perspective impact your students?

Students are able to “see” the rest of the world through interaction with someone who is actually in the location they are studying. Students realize that they can travel to these places whether it be virtually or physically. It also shows students that decisions they make early in life can impact their life later. Barrington shared his story about how he came from an area where many people pursued athletics. He had the same opportunity but took the road less traveled, and it has paid off abundantly.

What advice do you have for teachers who want to get more involved with teaching students about the world across disciplines?

I would suggest that they expand their horizons and go beyond looking at a flat map. Their students can go on virtual tours of other countries, create land masses of different regions using simple materials such as Play-Doh, and have in-depth discussions on global issues, like why a company may build its factory in China instead of in another country. I would also encourage students to challenge themselves by learning with their students. Both The Flying Classroom and National Geographic Geo Bee websites are excellent resources that engage students.

What is one simple activity that anyone could do with their students to get them thinking about the world?

Have students compare and contrast where they live and a place where they would like to visit or live. They can then research economic, political, and geographical aspects of the country and use that information to make an informed recommendation about moving to that country.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you in your life or in your teaching?

“All great achievements require time.” – Maya Angelou

To learn more about Natalie’s passion for STEM education, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @afterthepeanut.


The Flying Classroom Curriculum
The Flying Classroom Blog
Barrington Irving’s Ground Expeditions
Real-World Geography Profile on Barrington Irving
Video Spotlight – Teaching From the Skies





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