Educator Spotlight: Storytelling Across Borders

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Kim Young, this week’s Educator of the Week, engaged her students in exploring their own and others’ stories of migration through the Out of Eden Learn platform. This learning community connects to National Geographic Explorer Paul Salopek’s journey to retrace the path of our human ancestors. Kim’s 9th grade world history class took part in cross-cultural dialogue with peers from five countries, participating in a combination of experiential learning and skill development that helped them gain empathy for refugees.

Kim Young exploring Arctic Svalbard as part of the GTF program_Photo by Brynn Johnson
Kim Young, a teacher at Weston High School in Massachusetts, explored Arctic Svalbard as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Photo by Brynn Johnson

Reading news headlines about refugees and migration inspired your choice of the Stories of Human Migration curriculum, which you used as your capstone for the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program. How do you hope your students will interact with and think about news stories?

My hope is that students become independent learners and informed news consumers, understanding not only the latent content of a news article, but also seeing how those facts are being portrayed through recognizing biases and subjectivity. The biggest change I’ve seen in my students as a result of this project is the way they read news with a greater critical eye and informed perspective. They notice word choices associated with headlines and captions along with angles, framing, and content of images; they notice the types of terms the news outlet used to discuss the story (for example, migrant vs. refugee vs. asylum seeker); and they are able to formulate an opinion on how these choices may have an impact on how the story is understood by readers.

What surprised you about the way students engaged with this project?

I was surprised by the really amazing personal stories students were willing to share on the digital platform. For students who had recent migration stories themselves, or those who were less aware of the migration stories in their family history, the platform provided a safe place to share their journeys. They got positive feedback and validation not only from their classmates, but also from students across the world–global peers as well as local peers.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here. 

What advice do you give colleagues who want to engage students in thinking about the world?

My first piece of advice is to practice being globally competent yourself. If you’re interested in trying new global skills, dispositions, and frameworks with students, you’re going to gain greater comfort with it if you test it out on yourself first. Begin by putting yourself in a new cross-cultural situation, or a situation where you have to step outside your comfort zone. You can do that locally: going to a part of town you’re less familiar with without a map (or smartphone), or trying out different types of food.

In the classroom, I would say to start small and just do it. Often as educators, the scale of the changes we want to make is so big that we get stymied. Instead, we should just think of one small way we could make a change, and even if we’re not sure it’s going to work, just do it and embrace the failure. The Out of Eden Learn curriculum was very overwhelming at some points, but I did it anyway, and I’m going to improve upon it and learn from it next year. It was really empowering to do something totally new and give myself permission to fail.

Students collaborating as part of a human rights based design thinking challenge_Photo by Kim Young .jpeg
Students collaborated in a design thinking challenge related to human rights. Photo by Kim Young

You recently returned from your expedition to Arctic Svalbard as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. What are you most excited to bring back into your classroom?

The biggest way the fellowship has impacted me so far is by reminding me of the importance of discovery, inquiry, and exploration. It has recommitted me to incorporating not just those skills but also those feelings into my classroom, knowing how critical the feeling and spirit of discovery is to learning. I’m thinking about how to incorporate discovery and inquiry in an authentic manner into my classroom, so that my students continue to be explorers and learners. School should be an adventure. I want to capture that spirit in my classroom.

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.

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