Trevor Layman

Educator Spotlight: Using Latin to Unlock the Secrets of Space

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Trevor Layman, this week’s Educator of the Week, helped his Latin students see how an ancient language can allow them to explore the solar system. Students read and translated the Latin names of geographic features on the moon, learning about common lunar features. Using those names as inspiration, they designed their own celestial objects, creating maps with Latin toponyms.

Trevor Layman
Trevor Layman teaches 10th-grade Latin at the Overlake School in Redmond, Washington. Photo courtesy Trevor Layman.

You say in your capstone video for the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program that you’re a teacher by trade and an explorer at heart. How did you come to see yourself as an explorer?

Curiosity is the strongest motivating element of my personality. As a college student, I was able to study abroad in Rome and Istanbul, and I actively sought opportunities to work abroad, spending five summers at an archaeological site in Israel. Later, I worked as a dishwasher and janitor at McMurdo Station in the Antarctic, which was absolutely spectacular. It was like going to another planet.

I think the magic of teaching is that I can be myself and role modeling happens automatically. As long as I stay curious—like I did with my Latin in Space capstone project, which I thought was exciting and interesting—that energy gets transmitted in the classroom. Teaching is great for someone who likes to explore.

How do your travel experiences inform your teaching?

I think the best is when it happens incidentally. When an anecdote comes to mind, just play the part of storyteller. In a more formalized way, you can always show pictures of your travels, as they relate to the content of the lesson—that can help make the lesson real. But mostly I draw from my travel experiences in more organic ways like storytelling.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

Your project showed students how they could draw from their Latin knowledge to explore the moon. How do you use the study of Latin as a way to engage students’ curiosity?

You can really play connect the dots with Latin to a lot of different things: other languages, other civilizations. That’s the fun of it. I use Latin’s power of connecting the dots to stay close to things that are interesting to me, so the curiosity can be role modeled in a way that’s genuine.

I try to leverage what Latin can do as much as possible. I can talk about how Latin words are close to a word in English, or how perhaps they’ve heard a similar word in Spanish. I can talk about the seeds of Western history. I’m always pulling back the veil a little bit, hinting at the interconnected world that Latin contains the seedlings of. This project was almost a test, to see how far I could stretch what you could do with Latin. And it was a perfect fit.

What did you take away from your Latin in Space project?

Whenever I’ve gone out on a limb like this, or done something a little exotic, I can’t think of times I really regretted it. I think it’s worth it to do something that’s a little bit of a stretch. It can create a lot of excitement and positive feeling in the classroom.

Students with moon map
Students deciphered the meaning behind the names of geographic features on the Moon. (Zoom in on that map here!) Photo by Trevor Layman 


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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