Allison Fuisz, this week’s Educator of the Week, challenged her students to develop their geographic knowledge by finding a new home for the Wicked Witch of the West. She teaches in Ottawa, Ontario.
How did the Wicked Witch of the West project, your capstone for the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program, excite your students about geography?
Students worked in groups of four to explore potential countries where the Wicked Witch of the West could live, looking at the how the climate and resources would affect her. The idea of using the Wicked Witch stemmed from a conversation with an educator many years ago. In developing my own project, I found that it was a way to blend nonfiction with fiction to be a different type of hook for students. They were thinking critically about the needs of this bizarre character while learning about culture, exploring traditions, and gaining a better appreciation for the world around them.
We started with a traditional topographic map of the Swiss Alps and built from there, using National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive on a daily basis. As students manipulated the tool, they developed confidence in describing features of the map, and they respectfully discussed their research with each other. We were able to use an augmented reality sandbox, and students used Legos to create actual buildings. They saw how the different geographical pieces helped them better understand a country as a whole.
Tell us more about the augmented reality sandbox.
It is a massive box with sand that the students physically manipulate, and the program shows it digitally. Think of a sandbox with a projector on top of it connected to the computer. Students can show where rainfall would happen at different rates and how flooding could occur. They learned how to create their own topographical map and how it could change based on erosion, deforestation, and natural disasters. For example, a group studying Japan picked a region that they thought would be best for the Wicked Witch because it’s dry (and she melts in the rain), but it’s also at risk for a tsunami. They showed what could happen if a tsunami should hit: how a wetland could be destroyed, how the sea level could rise, etc.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
My original plan was to be a lawyer, but I have found myself continuously wanting to learn. I’m a curious person, and I think that’s what guided me into this position. I hope to not dictate where students go, but instead spark their curiosity, help them find the right direction, and connect them with experts to foster that spark. This isn’t a job. Every day I’m laughing. It’s a new challenge, a new growth.
What advice do you have for teachers wanting to spark curiosity?
We seem to talk a lot about student voice, but how can we truly incorporate it into the learning space? Listen to your students; learn what their interests are and guide them toward their passions to help create curious lifelong learners. Focus on the big ideas as well–ask your students, “Here’s what we need to learn. How can we get there together with your interests in mind?”
My mentors have reminded me to continue showing students that we can learn together. When there is a strong sense of community and inclusion in the learning space, students are often more willing to share their passions and be curious because they are OK with taking educated risks. Create a safe co-learning space, and who knows what could happen!
I think the success of this Wicked Witch project stemmed from these ideas. We learned about the content together, and students were allowed to explore based on their interests. Creativity met inquiry, and that is a learning dream.
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.