Educator Spotlight: Becoming an Explorer of Your Own State

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Leslie Hamilton, this week’s Educator of the Week, set out to help her students learn about life beyond their hometown of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Using a Giant Map, she guided her students in an exploration of their state. They examined the power of water in their town, state, and world, inspiring them to find ways to conserve this resource. Students went on to investigate historical figures in Massachusetts who made a positive impact on the lives of others.

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Leslie Hamilton teaches third grade at Federal Furnace Elementary School in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy Leslie Hamilton

Tell us a little about your capstone project for the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program, which took students on an adventure across Massachusetts using a Giant Map. How did it help your students become explorers of their own state?

Many of my students do not venture outside of their hometown, so I wanted to help them see the bigger picture and develop their spatial awareness. My students drove my project: I started planning it one way, and they took it in a different direction. I wanted them to explore the waterways of Massachusetts and learn about historical figures of our state. Their curious questions determined the direction of the capstone project. I loved how they made the importance of water and the importance of our state’s historical figures become a connected story. I enjoyed watching them discover Massachusetts at their own pace, leading me to where they needed to go.

The power of water sparked their curiosity. They learned about the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir: several towns were flooded and destroyed in order to provide much-needed water to Boston residents. They immediately brought the story home to their town and transferred their thoughts to what they would miss about Plymouth if it were destroyed for the good of others. Our historic sites became more meaningful and appreciated. My class didn’t stop there. They wanted to know more, and so we investigated the importance of water around the world.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

Your students wrote postcards to you describing their imagined encounters with historical figures. How do you think that activity added to their historical understanding?

Imagining spending time with a historical figure expanded their knowledge of not only the person, but also the time frame. Their postcards needed to be meaningful, so they had to research and bring themselves back into another time period when video games didn’t exist—an unimaginable thought for an eight-year-old! They made personal connections with their historical figures.

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One student wrote about “meeting” James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Photo by Leslie Hamilton

Did you notice changes in students’ perspectives on their region? Did anything surprise you about their reaction to the project?

 My students were surprised by the amount of water in and around our state. They also quickly realized that there is life beyond their town of Plymouth. I heard discussion about hiking Mt. Greylock, visiting the birthplace of Emily Dickinson, and measuring the length between the Quabbin Reservoir and Boston. These were newfound discoveries, triggered by the Giant Map of Massachusetts.

I was surprised by their ability to ask good questions which paved the way for more questions–inquiry education at its best! With each question, their state was beginning to take shape, and their inquiries moved them toward attaining useful and applicable knowledge. I hope that experience will inspire them to continue their quest for knowledge throughout their lives.

Students became explorers of their home state. Photo by Leslie Hamilton

Do you have a favorite book, blog, or quote that inspires your teaching?

“Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.” –R.J. Palacio, from the book Wonder


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.

One thought on “Educator Spotlight: Becoming an Explorer of Your Own State

  1. Outstanding! Congratulations on your well-deserved award and for expanding the minds of our students! This is what true, well-rounded education is and should be! Great job!

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