Paula Huddy-Zubkowski, this week’s Educator of the Week, inspired her students to take action about climate change and its effects on polar bears. This interdisciplinary activity culminated in the students making connections in their local community as well as globally on Twitter. Paula teaches second grade at St. Joseph Elementary/Junior High School in Calgary, Alberta.
When and why did you decide to become a teacher?
Honestly, in Grade 1! I found my own teacher so inspiring. She made me wonder and want to discover the world. I became connected to nature. In University, I received my geography degree. My interest in travel was piqued. From there I had the opportunity to travel around the world with my sister. I have brought these experiences into my teaching. Nature, travel, and teaching—these are my passions in life.
For the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program, you created a project about polar bear conservation. What did that entail?
It was a huge project with a lot of different parts. We started by tuning in to explore.org so students could watch live footage of polar bears, which sparked a lot of curiosity and questions. This began their journey on a cross-curricular activity integrating science, social studies, math, and language arts.
Through mapping activities, using clear plastic as a layer, as well as National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive, students improved their spatial literacy and began to understand the physical geography of the Arctic. This created a foundation of understanding about the polar bears’ environment.
Other elements to this lesson included live video hangouts through National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom, reading books about polar bears, and the hands-on construction of model polar bear habitats using natural materials. At the end of the project, students wrote a book from the perspective of polar bears, titled Letters from Concerned Polar Bears.
They wanted to share what they’d learned and encourage the community to help save polar bears’ homes, so we visited nearby businesses and even took to Twitter to tell the polar bears’ story. I was impressed to see how invested my students had become in the life of a polar bear. As stewards of the earth, they became the change.
What advice do you have for other teachers who are interested in helping their young students to care about protecting the environment?
I think you just need to do authentic activities that connect kids to the land and to the people and animals that rely on it. As soon as the students have a real-world experience, they start wanting to learn more about our planet and our world. The more we get them outside, or meeting people like scientists or conservationists, the more they’ll believe they can make a difference themselves.
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.