Alison Travis, this week’s Educator of the Week, helped her students visit the dens of bears, the nests of birds, and the underwater homes of ocean creatures. Students followed their own curiosity to study an animal of their own choosing and used virtual reality technology to visit those creatures at home. Alison is a kindergarten teacher at Prospect Ridge Academy in Broomfield, Colorado.
How would you describe yourself as a teacher or your teaching philosophy?
I see my role as a teacher as first and foremost being about forming good citizens of the world. I’m very concerned about my students being self-motivated and globally minded. I teach at the lower elementary levels so you get these students who are ready to interact with others, and they have a natural curiosity already. I want to encourage them to be curious, ask questions, take charge of their own learning, and extend their learning beyond the classroom. That’s why it’s so important to make sure everything you teach is directly relevant to your students. If you make it relevant to them, you help them take their learning into the bigger picture from there.
For the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program, you created a project about habitats using virtual reality technology. What did that entail?
We had been studying animals in science—why they look the way they do, what they eat, where they live, and things like that. In particular, I really wanted my students to understand how habitats fulfill the survival needs of animals. I decided to use virtual reality to make this project immersive, engaging, and hands-on.
Each student selected an animal to do a report on. After going through National Geographic Education’s Habitat Needs activity, I incorporated opportunities for independent reading. Students researched the habitat of their chosen animal in leveled informational texts. They then split into groups and used Google Expeditions and Discovery VR to virtually visit the habitats they were studying. This helped students gain a deeper knowledge of what it was like to “be” an animal and live in a specific habitat.
Finally, students drew and wrote about the habitat they observed, explaining how it fulfills their animal’s needs. This page was added into their animal projects and shared with their peers.
How did your students respond to this project?
Experiencing the different habitats sparked curiosity in my students, and this “firsthand” experience brought up new questions. Plus, students became curious about the possibilities for using technology such as virtual reality for learning and research. Many of them became excited to visit other places through virtual reality in the future. I will try to find connections for other lessons at their request!
What advice do you have for other teachers who are interested in helping their students make a deeper connection to nature?
Try to make things as hands-on as possible. That could be done through getting out into the field and doing things outdoors, but in this case, I didn’t even take my kids physically out of the classroom. Nevertheless, the virtual reality activity was more interactive than just watching a video. As much as possible, help kids to put themselves into nature—whether virtually or in real life.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!
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.