Educator Spotlight: Connecting Students to Their Local Environment

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Breanna Myles, this week’s Educator of the Week, empowered her students to advocate for sustainable development in their local community. Breanna, a 2016 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, currently serves as an instructional coach. She previously taught 7th and 8th grade at Bruce Peninsula District School in Lion’s Head, Ontario, Canada.

Breanna Myles_Photo by Jeanne Muzi
Breanna Myles is an instructional coach for the Bluewater District in Ontario, Canada. Photo by Jeanne Muzi

Your capstone project for the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program was called “Think Global, Act Local: Sustainable Development in Our Changing World.” What inspired it, and how did you introduce your students to sustainable development at global and local scales?

As a 7th- and 8th-grade teacher in a small, rural community, I wanted to connect my students to global issues and give them a tangible way to take action. When I explored the Arctic as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I had an overwhelming sense of how connected we were and how much our world was changing, and I wanted to bring that home to my students.

We followed the Geo-Inquiry process and began by asking: How can I contribute to a more sustainable earth—globally and locally? What can we do here and now to promote sustainable development and mitigate climate change? We collected data about the Arctic through various articles and resources on climate change as well as 360-degree images I’d imported into Google Street View. Students made infographics to visualize the data.

We also explored our home: we’re lucky to have the Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Bruce Trail, which follows the Niagara Escarpment through Ontario, right in our backyard. We visited the trail often to participate in outdoor activities, learn about the native species there, and clean up the trail as environmental stewards. Guest speakers taught our class more about the Bruce Peninsula’s history, flora, and fauna.

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Breanna’s students created a sustainable development manifesto to share with visitors to their area. Photo courtesy Breanna Myles

How did students take action as a result of their learning?

They created videos (see examples) about lesser-known areas of the peninsula with the goal of educating visitors about the biodiversity of the area. We compiled these videos into a Google My Map. Then, students worked together to produce a sustainable development manifesto that asks visitors to protect their home in the Bruce Peninsula. We shared the link to the map and manifesto on social media and local tourism websites to reach tourists coming to the area.

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Visitors to the Bruce Peninsula can view student-created videos sharing local highlights on a Google My Map. Image courtesy Breanna Myles

What inspired you to develop projects that ask students to take action?

I think if a project ends at the classroom walls, the students don’t find it as meaningful. They want to know that what they’re doing is going to have an impact. That action piece is so important for me. I think we have to model for them what it actually looks like to do something about the issues we care about. We try to give them these small successes so they realize how it feels to have an impact and they want to keep doing those kinds of projects.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

I really believe that kids care. They have ideas, creativity, and energy to share. I feel that I have a unique perspective since I returned to teach in my home community after learning a lot through my travels. I understand the students’ needs, and I can also offer a perspective on how connected we are. It’s a lightbulb moment when they understand how their individual actions in this community affect the broader world. I want to empower my students to think about how they can make a difference.

Do you have a favorite quote related to your work as an educator?

I always tell my students, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, “‘The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.’ Go be acorns!”

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Visiting the Bruce Trail inspired Breanna’s students to understand and appreciate their local environment. Photo by Breanna Myles


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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