Educator Spotlight: From Close Observation to Community Action

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Jennifer Bevill, this week’s Educator of the Week, is a technology teacher who empowers students to use technology as a tool for communication, collaboration, and connection. She took her students on a silent walk to sharpen their observations of their school environment. Inspired by the issues they noticed, they gathered ideas from international contexts and took action to change their peers’ habits.

Jennifer Bevill
Jennifer Bevill teaches technology classes for grades 10-12 at University Laboratory School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo courtesy Jennifer Bevill

You teach technology, but for your capstone project, you had your students put aside those tools and take a silent walk around their school. How did students react?

I think my students were as surprised as I was about how much they got out of it. As a society, we often do not focus on our own senses. Walking around the school, my students noticed things they’d never noticed before, including humans’ actions and interactions with the environment. They were appalled by the litter around their school and saw the impact of many people’s small choices.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

Along with investigating their school, your students used MapMaker Interactive to learn about Japan. How did these two explorations shape the ways in which they decided to take action?

I’ve traveled a lot, so when my students saw the issue of litter right there on their school campus, I helped them make an international connection. We talked about the cleanliness of various cities in the U.S., and I introduced cultural aspects of Japan that lead to their cities’ cleanliness. For example, Japanese people usually don’t walk and eat, or get coffee to go. Students saw these little habits that differ in our cultures and asked questions about how changing habits could change the litter problem.

My students figured we could address the habits at our school that lead to the litter. They made promotional posters, and at lunch one day, they encouraged others to walk around and notice the litter. They realized that they can be agents of change.

Jennifer helps her students learn to make a difference through effective storytelling. Photo by Jennifer Bevill

What attitudes do you want your students to develop toward technology and media?

I teach graphic design and media production, so technically my objective is that they should develop great skills in those areas. But I don’t sit there and teach technology skills; I teach technology as a tool for communication, collaboration, and creating global connections. Students learn that they can use it to make change and make their voices heard.

National Geographic’s resources have helped me learn the importance of storytelling. My students can choose formats and tools that tell the story, get people’s attention, and create change. We focus on the problems they see and how they can use their voices to persuade people to change their habits. We try to connect this to the human story globally. Technology can help them learn about different cultures, do research, and talk to people all over the world. Then they bring all of that in to make a project where they can hopefully make a change.

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Students collaborated to create promotional posters. Photo by Jennifer Bevill

What message do you hope other educators will take away from your work?

I like to take a holistic educational approach and develop students to go into society with a global perspective. As an educator, I have a responsibility to connect what’s going on in the classroom with what’s going on locally, nationally, and globally, as well as in other subject areas. It takes extra work for teachers to collaborate, but it’s so worth it. Helping students make these connections is really what it’s all about.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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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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