Educator Spotlight: Mapping Family Stories

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Brennan Caverhill, this week’s Educator of the Week, helped his students to develop stronger connections to each other, their families, and the world through a multifaceted ancestry project. Brennan teaches grades 3, 4, 6, and 8 at Saint Cecilia Elementary School in Toronto, Ontario.

Brennan Caverhill teaches at an elementary school in Toronto, Ontario. Photo courtesy Brennan Caverhill

How would you describe your teaching philosophy or your mission as an educator?

 An important goal of mine is to be a positive role model for my students, and practice what I preach. I will learn along with them, be curious about the content, and hopefully that will rub off. The best teachers I have had in my life did not tell me what to do, or how to do it, but modeled it for me instead.

I also believe it’s critically important as a teacher that I respect and believe in my students. I’m genuinely interested in them as people, and I try to show respect for them on a daily basis. One way I do that is by giving my students choice in what they learn and how they learn it. I hope that will help them develop a greater sense of ownership in their education, which will make their learning more meaningful. After all is said and done, isn’t meaning what we’re all searching for?

Students used National Geographic MapMaker Interactive for their ancestry projects. Photo courtesy Brennan Caverhill

For the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program, you created a project about mapping ancestral origins. Tell us about it.

Using the National Geographic MapMaker Interactive tool, my students visualized and mapped their ancestral origins. Through research that included conversations with their families, the students learned why their ancestors lived in various regions, what made those regions sustainable (or not), and why (and when) they moved to Canada, and ultimately Toronto.

Teachers: Download the full lesson plan here.

For the final project, we created maps of our ancestral heritage and delivered presentations that shared stories about our families and our world. We used to create family trees and Google Slides for the presentation.

What was the impact of this project on your students?

I could tell the students had fun with this project. Many of them entered well over 100 members into their virtual family trees and included photos, birthdates, marriage dates, and more.

Students were also required to give presentations, which can be a harrowing experience. Many of them breathed deep sighs of relief when they delivered their talk and realized that their classmates were actually very interested. Sharing personal stories about their families was quite rewarding for many students—they were able to talk about their fathers and mothers, what they do for work, how they immigrated to Canada, or how they still have relatives in countries around the world! I feel the students are now more connected to each other and to their families.

Students entered members of their families into virtual family trees. Photo courtesy Brennan Caverhill

Do you have any favorite quotes about teaching?

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire” Plutarch

“The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer” Alice Wellington Rollins

“If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right” Bob Basso


This interview has been edited and condensed.

blue nominateDo 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.

One thought on “Educator Spotlight: Mapping Family Stories

  1. Hello,
    I love to hear about Educators who are inspiring their students. This article was informative and articulate. Teaching is not my background, though I believe teachers have the greatest impact in helping to shape our future. Love the quotes. Love words. Love to learn. Coincidentally, I have done an interview with a teacher, “making a difference” in Romania. I mentioned to her about the word “Levidrome”, and she is helping to get the word in common usage.This article will be shared with Ecaterina. Perhaps one of your educator spotlights will be from someone in Eastern Europe.

    Please give ny regards to Brennan Caverhill for giving into hope.

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