Mariana displays her students' work

Educator Spotlight: International Travel From Home

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Mariana Oprea is a K-12 exceptional children’s teacher at Piedmont High School in Monroe, North Carolina. She has been teaching for 14 years.

Mariana displays student work
Photo by Donna Helms

Activity: Exploring World Cultures

Subjects: Exceptional Children’s Education

Grades: K-12 

Tell us about your activity. What did you need to prepare?

My students and I often do in-depth studies of specific countries. To get students thinking, I like to set up the classroom space as a map of the world using laminated cardboard cutouts to represent continents. Students move around the globe, guided by questions and directions. This sparks introspection and discussion. Some directions might include:

  • Move to the part of the world where your ancestors are from.
  • Move to a place in the world that you would like to visit.
  • Move to a place in the world where you think there is a serious global concern.

We often choose to focus on a specific country because a student or teacher has recently visited, or because a current event attracts interest there. For example, we focused on Thailand after I had the opportunity to visit and establish a sister school there. We used Google Earth satellite images to virtually retrace my steps. I also brought back pictures, artifacts, soaps, oils, and candy for my students to touch, smell, and taste!

For the final project, students created posters on a chosen research topic relevant to Thailand, such as landforms, traditional clothing, or holidays. The posters were displayed during an International Day at school. We invited parents and friends to visit and enjoy Thai food that my students prepared.

Mariana displays her students' work
Photo by Donna Helms

Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in thought process, behavior, or perspective?

My students have moderate intellectual disabilities, and the lesson on Thailand boosted both their confidence and their motivation. They were proud to share their findings with family and friends, and they felt their work could positively impact the community by shedding light on other cultures.

What has been your most memorable “teachable moment”?

Two of my students once asked me to help them with a video contest entry. I would have been happy to help them, but I don’t teach film production. On top of that, I worried that my students’ intellectual challenges and anxiety would make the contest stressful and unpleasant for them. I doubted they should apply.

When I told one of my colleagues, a career and technical education teacher, she had a great idea. She encouraged some of her students to film my kids and work with them on an entry. As a result, my students got an honorable mention after competing with students from 50 high schools. What a life lesson for me!

Never give up on your students. They might not be able to do everything alone, but they are unstoppable when they ask for help.

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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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